Initiative aims to help develop innovative companies for brain health

Brainstorm’s first event featured a competition between researchers who designed virtual-reality products for diagnosing and treating mental illness.

- By Tracie White

Brainstorm, an initiative that aims to foster creative and entrepreneurial companies to improve brain health, launched recently with an event featuring a Shark Tank-style competition between virtual reality researchers.

“Virtual reality and augmented reality offer exciting potential to transform the way that we as physicians diagnose and treat diseases like PTSD, autism, anxiety and opioid use,” said Nina Vasan, MD, a psychiatry resident and MBA student at Stanford, and founder and director of Brainstorm. “Brainstorm wanted to capture this potential by identifying promising VR/AR applications and working with entrepreneurs to develop their ideas into successful ventures.”

Six teams made the finals in October. They included a high school team that presented a virtual reality game which simulates what it’s like to have schizophrenia, and a team of researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin that designed a video game for promoting real-time tools for overcoming anxiety. The teams came from across the country to appear before a panel of judges at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. The event was part of Stanford’s annual Innovations in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health conference.

The winner of the competition was a research team from Simon Fraser University in Canada that is investigating the use of neurosensors connected to a virtual reality system designed to help determine what can trigger a relapse in a recovering addict.

Brainstorm, whose interdisciplinary team members hail from across Stanford and the nation, is a special initiative of Laura Roberts, MD, professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. 

The initiative provides courses and educational materials and hosts regular events supporting the growth of entrepreneurial ideas in the field of brain health, Vasan said.

“We wanted to bring the Silicon Valley-style of problem-solving to psychiatry,” Vasan said.  “Our goal is to bring together pioneering people and create innovative technology and companies that will transform the way brain and behavioral health is addressed.”

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2024 ISSUE 1

Psychiatry’s new frontiers